Millions of tourists visit China each year, and their impressions of the country can vary widely based on a short exposure time. For people like Jim Hammond, the experience was much deeper and the understanding of the Middle Kingdom much richer. He initially spent about 18 months in China, living among the people, learning about their lives, dreams for the future and concerns. In excerpts of his conversation with VOA’s Jim Stevenson, Hammond shares his view of China in a book titled New China.
HAMMOND: I was not a tourist. I lived there amongst the Chinese. I married a Chinese lady. I did not stay in hotels, I lived in apartment houses. I taught English to kids in high school and college and also some businesses I taught English. That is why I feel my message is perhaps a little better than some from the past. I was not there to report on China. As a matter of fact, I did not even think about writing about China until I was about ready to come home. While I was there I did take a bunch of photographs and I did take a lot of notes.
STEVENSON: You write about one of the turning points of China in June 1989 and mention unfortunately the Chinese people and even some of the government authorities had misread former leader Deng Xiaoping’s intent in creating a ‘New China.’
HAMMOND: Yes. You have some people that were very optimistic that bringing a version of capitalism to China would eventually result in democracy. That was very erroneous. That was not Deng’s intent at all. He wanted the money. He wanted the industrialization. He wanted a lot of what you get in the modern society, but he did not want democracy at all.
STEVENSON: Your book also begins with an interesting chapter on American and Chinese public attitude. What were some of the ways that you found they were different and similar?
HAMMOND: I think to characterize American public opinion, it… basically is one of ignorance because Americans have a tendency to be very involved with their own home concerns. They do not want to get too involved overseas or entangled with foreign countries or foreign problems. The Chinese, it was interesting, because when I talked to various Chinese from various walks of life, I found their government was not really very popular to them. They tended to be very impressed with American democracy and our freedom. They really liked a lot of things which I don’t know are particularly positive like Hollywood pictures and singers and things like that. Some of the things that were a little disturbing were a lot of the Chinese have a very strong nationalistic spirit with relationship to Taiwan. That is one area that they tend to be in strong agreement with their government. They think that the Taiwanese should be taken over by China and not allowed to be an independent country. But in many other respects, they were very critical of their government.
STEVENSON: Xi Jinping has made it one of his primary goals to counter corruption and graft. In your chapter, Economy and Graft, the economy and graft seem to go hand-in-hand quite a bit.
HAMMOND: Yes. Actually, I think not too far in the future a lot of the government, especially leaders like Xi Jinping, will have strong regrets about the corruption and graft in China because a lot of money has been wasted, lost through these events. I think Xi Jinping is concerned about that. So far, it looks like he is going to be successful in combating a lot of corruption and graft. Deng Xiaoping created basically what is called “new China” and it has been pretty successful from the standpoint of creating a lot of wealth in China. You have to look at the negative side, and that is the fact that it is based on greed. Greed is of course a weakness of humanity that is from the very beginning of mankind. I think that you can’t have a government that is based on greed and expect it to survive. I think the Chinese people inherently have an ethical basis from the past to judge the government. I think that ultimately that judgment will cause the failure of the Communist regime.